When I started this review some months ago, I was about 2/3 into Dark Souls Remastered. I have now found myself in the alumni of Nintendo Switch owners by finishing it. The first time at least. If you have seen my Instagram feed, you’ll note it took up a teeny bit of my time.
Demon Souls was the first in the series, but my first kiss was From Software’s Dark Souls. I heard a few things through the rumour mill that it was a bloody hard game, and it was. Luckily I expected to die a lot having read the reviews so it wasn’t a shock that I died. A lot. But only in the game and not on the inside.
See, I had no expectations from Dark Souls other than dying. I was determined to see it through, however. Sure it was frustrating, but that was the fun of it. In all honesty, I find the NES Online games harder than the Dark Souls model. For something similarly difficult but where death matters, is Cuphead.
Groundhog Day for Hollows
Dark Souls Remastered is an ambiguous game at times. No one holds your hand and shows you what to do really, but there is a little feature where other players can help you out by leaving you messages about potential loot or backstabbing an enemy – I don’t know, like saying their hair looks good and behind their back say it looks like a mess – or you can bring another player into the game – usually to fight a boss – further in the game. Before jumping the gun (or sword), what is Dark Souls Remastered about? I dunno, look it up.
Kill the undead and you are rewarded with souls. Accumulate said souls to help you level up stats, upgrade weapons and armour or spend with a local shopkeeper and purchase some elegant arrows or perhaps sir would like to buy a bastard sword? I’m not swearing – the sword is a bona fide bastard. Rinse and repeat. A lot.
That’s what it’s all about – a sadistic Groundhog Day – in limbo – fighting the undead, golems, demons, drakes, puberty… whatever is thrown at you. The end goal is to become the Lord of the Dance and kill everything so there’s nothing left apart from you and your dog. Well, there is no dog but if there was one, you’d probably have to kill it. And it would most likely be gigantic and wield a bastard sword.
Soul grinds and other jargon no-one else uses
Unless you’re a real-life ninja* and can effortlessly speed run through this, you will most likely have to level up your character. In order to level up your character, head to a bonfire (think of it a checkpoint) and there will be some options such as rest, level up, attune your spells and so on. Stats can be invested in health and stamina. The latter determines how long you can run and roll, how much you can swing your sword and resistances. Other stats such as strength help you wield a big bastard sword or dexterity for faster, more advanced weapons. Gameplay can be unforgiving but the character progression not so much. I always build a melee type character in games as I like to tank and run at stuff. Like in real life.
In my previous incarnations of the game, I used strength builds. My first attempt was a dexterity build, but I lacked the finesse. Instead, I created a strength build so I could smash. Though you can’t reset the skill points, there is a little room to build a character to your playing style. However… the souls required to buy new skill points increases as your level increases so it can get to the stage where you’re accumulating a lot of souls just to raise one point. You’ve been warned.
Summoning help from strangers
I mentioned about other players assisting – where you summon a player to your session. That’s right, there’s the option to bring another player into the mix and help things move along. To do this, you need to be human. That’s a given, but in Dark Souls Remastered, you’re already dead and referred to as a ‘hollow’. To become human you need to follow the yellow brick road… cheap. To become a human you need an item called humanity.
When beating some bosses, looting or sometimes with a shopkeeper, you will be rewarded with this or perhaps you’ll find in your travels left in a bus stop. Consume this, return to a bonfire and reverse hollowing from the menu and there will be the option to friend up another player to help you out. Often found outside boss areas will be a marker. Hover over this and summon the player and they will join the fight.
If you die, your partner will go back to their own game and you will return to the bonfire as a hollow, feeling hollow, without any souls. Or companions. Again. I only did this once with an actual human and we were both rubbish. There are a couple of times you can summon NPCs. Sometimes they are a good distraction so you can sneak up behind the boss and give a good-hiding, or there are times when they can cause some real damage like a spirit called Paladin Leeroy. That’s right, Leeroy Jenkins is in this game.
There are quite a few people I know – in real life! – that won’t touch this series. They simply don’t have the patience nor enjoy it whatsoever. That’s totally fine but I reckon that if they stuck it out a little, they’d get into it. As difficult as the game can get, the outcome is more rewarding.
Dark Souls Remastered doesn’t have fancy cutscenes or unlockable trophies as it’s the Switch. But defeating a boss who so clearly can one-hit you is an achievement in itself. There is replay value with a loop of new games – NG+, NG++ and so on. The baddies get tougher and the levelling up more elusive, but for some reason, it’s seductive enough to come back to for a thrill, despite it pushing us off mountains, hitting us with an axe or just simply, not being very friendly.
Tidied up with some textures
Arguably, the Switch version is the best. Sure, textures aren’t going to be up there with the PS4 and Xbox One but the Dark Souls series was never about graphics and performance. As long as you can roll, that’s all that matters. Also, if you’ve ever seen those mental speed run experts play, they often do it with no clothes on – in the game too. There’s no need for gorgeous visuals as you’re too busy dying. That said… it does look good in portable mode and I haven’t once had a technical issue other than the network dropping like it’s hot – big deal. The joy of offline mode means you are less likely to be invaded by someone better. At least they can’t nick your stuff.
My verdict? Get it. Again and again. I have this for the PS3 and finished it multiple times but still bought it on the Switch. After buying it, I played Dark Souls Remastered exclusively rather than any of my other games. A.K.A. The Backlog. When I finished it, took my screenshots for Instagram and for here, I continued to a new game and played for another hour. I don’t recall doing that for any game – immediately after finishing. So yeah, I’m a big fan.
After I finished this for the first time, I bought Sekiro on the PS4. The movement and levelling system different and I have to say, much much harder. To be honest, I would rather stick with Dark Souls Remastered. Not that it’s a better game, I’m just better at the Dark Souls. In true Dark Souls Remastered fashion, I’ve written this again and again and most likely, will do so again.
Not the most recent in the Dark Souls trilogy, but the remastered version is the definitive iteration of this modern classic. As equally frustrating as the games before it, yet just as immensely satisfying. Even worth buying again if you already own it as you can play on the go.